Wednesday, March 25, 2015

TESOLs Past - the big picture

One reason I'm going to Toronto is that for years, as the TESOL Convention was in various cities, Baltimore, San Antonio, St. Louis, I would just tell everyone that I thought it should go to Toronto. Little did I know that it actually was in Toronto, maybe in 1983, but that was well before my time, as I didn't really start attending them seriously until about 1994. From '94 on, though, I went to a string of about sixteen or seventeen of them, and really only missed a few from then to now.

I know that TESOL as an organization has an institutional memory of its very first international TESOL Convention, which was in the late sixties, in which a terrible airplane accident near Mexico City killed all the leaders of TESOL, most of whom were all on the same plane. There was no question for many of the following years that TESOL as an organization was still hesitant to have a Convention outside of the USA, but I think another big reason for avoiding Canada was simply the weather. The Convention is always in late March (sometimes early April) and draws people from all over the world, but especially from some of the warmer places. How many of these people will truly be prepared for Canada in late March? Of course, how many people are prepared for Canada in general, one could argue, and I tend to jump in here as a person who has always loved Canada, in all its forms, stormy, gray, snowy, windy, a little conservative, with its kilometers and grams and liters, and good youth hostels in the centers of its cities.

My first TESOL Convention, or the earliest one I remember best, was in Chicago in 1988, and I badly needed a job in the USA, having had a baby back in Korea. At one point I climbed in an elevator of a major hotel, perhaps the Palmer or the Sheraton, and Dick Gephardt and a few of his goons were in there. He was running for president of the US at the time, and all the candidates were in the fancy Chicago hotels on that day for some event; others who were probably in the building at that time were Dukakis, who eventually won, and Senator Paul Simon of Illinois, who lost that campaign but was probably the best of the candidates. The elevator closed around us and I could feel the tension as everyone read my name badge, which had a Korean university's name on it. Dick Gephardt almost had to restrain his goons to keep them from having two or three of them just pick me up and push me out of the elevator. I pressed a floor button so that the elevator would drop me well below their floor, and everyone was relieved when I simply got out of the elevator at the right moment. I still laugh about that time, because I still remember so clearly the stress resulting from the idea that every voter is still to be courted; a bad story about being roughed up in an elevator could cost a person hundreds of votes at that point and I'm sure he wanted to avoid that; at the same time, being a kind of south-side (St. Louis) kind of guy, maybe he had some other opinions too. on my trip, i will fly through Chicago in one direction, but through new york on the other. a friend of mine claims that Toronto '83 was his first, and that this gives him nostalgia. ah yes, me too.

I could go on and on about various conventions, or tell a little about what kind of things a Convention encompasses, but I won't. TESOL took applications to be a convention blogger (long-time attendee) and I almost took them up on it, but I didn't. The main reason is that I've become like the guys in my bluegrass band, thoroughly uncompromising, and not caring especially whether I please a professional audience. Why should I reach out to a wide, far-flung, professional, TESOL audience? I haven't published a single ESL book, so I have no special reason to attract such people to even this page, which is about the best of my professional writing these days. I'm going to this one to connect with many old and beloved friends, and to do my schtick in another country, which is always fun, and partly, because I need a break from warm and dry, relentlessly conservative Texas. Down here, Cruz is more liberal than most, but he was able to capture the center (by calling his opponent a moderate), so....he edged his way into office, and actually shut down the government once. I'm not getting in an elevator with him; instead, I'm leaving the country. It's really for everyone's benefit.

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